Apr 072015
 
THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


WIRT VAN ARSDALE – The Professor Knits a Shroud. Doubleday Crime Club, hardcover, 1951.

   Pedro Jose Maria Guadaloupe 0’Reilly y Apodaca, B.S., M.A., Ph.D., more familiarly and shortly known as Peter or Uncle Pete, is a professor of anthropology, not, as Doubleoday’s dust jacket would have it, archaeology. The young lady to whom he is a former guardian invites him, somewhat to the displeasure of her husband even though he usually enjoys Uncle Pete’s company, to their farm, presently occupied by Henri Von Fliegel, a best-selling author.

   Apodaca describes Von Fliegel’s books this way: …Oh, he had good story ideas. That I will grant you. But then he’d take those good ideas and embellish them with all sorts of impossible characters and impossible situations and throw in a lot of cheap sentimentality and as much fornication as he thought he could get by with and call the whole nauseating mess a novel…

   Ah, how the literary world has progressed since the 1950s.

   But I digress.

   As is usual with successful authors — though only in fiction, one hopes — Von Fliegel is loathed by almost everyone, and apparently with good reason. As is to be expected, he comes to no good end, shot in the head while working on his current novel.

   Luckily, Professor Apodaca’s experience in anthropological fie!d work leads him to make some sterling deductions, and these convince the police that he should be part of the investigation. He solves the case, to the appreciation of almost all concerned. As an aid to his cerebration, the professor knits socks. At last count, he had completed 2,736 individual ones, I believe, not pairs.

   The only unbelievable item in the novel, if one accepts the sock count, is Apodaca’s inability to recall for a lengthy period where he had read about the word rache written in blood. There are well-read people who wouldn’t immediate|y know that, but what are they doing detecting in mystery novels?

   Wirt Van Arsdale, a pseudonym of Martha Wirt Davis, wrote only one mystery. A pity, for Van Arsdale showed lots of promise in this boo. Of course, you have to accept the usual caveat that people act unreasonably for purposes of the plot in this bib!io mystery.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 9, No. 6, November-December 1987.


Bio-Bibliographic Notes: As Bill points out, this was Martha Wirt Davis’s only work of detective fiction. She may have written others if not for her untimely death in 1952, at the age of 46. She was married to author and occasional pulp fiction writer Clyde Brion Davis, who died in 1962. According to Wikipedia, their son, David Brion Davis, is an “American intellectual and cultural historian, and a leading authority on slavery and abolition in the Western world.”

 Posted by at 6:07 pm
Apr 062015
 

From researcher John Herrington:

    “I have some questions to ask about an author who is proving hard to reliably track down. Alice Hosken who wrote as Coralie Stanton, author of many “sensational novels,”, several of which are in Al Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV. [See below.]

    “The trouble is I can only find two records for her. In 1901 she married Ernest Hosken as Mary Alice Cecil Seymour Keay — I have a copy of her marriage certificate which says she was 24 and the daughter of John Seymour Keay, banker (and MP in the early 1890s). But no such birth found c1877 (which is given in her entry on the 1911 census which says born London).

    “I have looked at John Seymour Keay and found a few facts. He was Scottish born in 1839 and spent many years working in India, returning permanently here in 1880. He married, in October 1878 in London, Christina (known as Nina) Jameson Vivian, daughter of an Englishman who was then living in Australia where he died in 1880.

    “Nina died in in 1885 and is known to have been the mother of his two daughters – Nina born India in 1880 and Gladys born England in 1881. – with no mention of Alice. In fact when he died in 1909, a newspaper article on his will says he left everything to his two daughters, Nina and Gladys.

    “So no mention of a third daughter (a son was born and died in 1885). So if the Keay connection is correct, was she born out of wedlock? Keay is on the 1881 census with his wife and daughter Nina, and I have found no mention of a Mary or Alice Keay on that census who fits. As I said, the only two definite records for her are the 1901 marriage and the 1911 census.

    “I have no idea how long Keay was in England before his marriage, though he returns to England afterwards. I suppose it’s possible there was another marriage in India, that when that marriage ended his wife kept the child and either remarried or retained her maiden name?

    “So her origins are at present a complete mystery. As too is her death, though she could be the Alice S Hosken who died in 1951.

    “Sorry to go into so much detail, but Keay’s story is necessary to illustrate the mystery surrounding Alice.”

BIBLIOGRAPHY:        [taken from Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV]

CORALIE STANTON. Pseudonym of Alice Cecil Seymour Hosken, (1877?-1951?)

The Adventuress (McBride, 1907, hc) See: Miriam Lemaire, Money Lender (Cassell 1906) as by Coralie Stanton & Heath Hosken.
The Amateur Adventuress (Thomson, 1930, hc) [England]
Called to Judgment (with Heath Hosken) (Paul, 1913, hc) [England]
-Chance the Juggler (with Heath Hosken) (Hutchinson, 1904, hc) [England]
The Dog Star (with Heath Hosken) (Cassell, 1913, hc)
-Her Fugitive (Thomson, 1929, pb) [England]
Ironmouth (Paul, 1916, hc) [England]
The Love That Kills (with Heath Hosken) (Milne, 1909, hc) [England]
The Man Made Law (with Heath Hosken) (Everett, 1908, hc) [England]
Miriam Lemaire, Money Lender (with Heath Hosken) (Cassell, 1906, hc) [Miriam Lemaire; England] U.S. title: The Adventuress. McBride, 1907, as by Coralie Stanton.
The Muzzled Ox (with Heath Hosken) (Paul, 1911, hc)
-The Revelations of a Rich Wife (with Heath Hosken) (Nash, 1921, hc) [England]
The Second Best (with Heath Hosken) (Long, 1907, hc) [England]
The Sinners’ Syndicate (with Heath Hosken) (Hurst, 1907, hc) [England]
-The Way of Escape (Leng, 1932, hc)
The White Horsemen (with Heath Hosken) (Nash, 1924, hc)
-Zoe: A Woman’s Last Card (with Heath Hosken) (Everett, 1913, hc) [England]

 Posted by at 5:38 pm
Apr 052015
 
FIRST YOU READ, THEN YOU WRITE
by Francis M. Nevins


   I own very few European crime novels in both their original language and in English, but one of those is Der Richter und Sein Henker or, as it’s known over here, The Judge and His Hangman (1952; U.S. edition 1955), the first novel of Swiss playwright Friedrich Duerrenmatt (1921-1990).

   I read it in both languages many years ago and again last month. It’s about Hans Bärlach (whose last name in English is missing the umlaut), Kommissär of the Swiss police, a man clearly near death, and his 40-year-long struggle against a sort of existential criminal who committed a motiveless murder in front of the Kommissär’s eyes and dared Bärlach to pin it on him.

   More than sixty years after its first publication the book is still a compelling read, and the German edition (designed for students who are learning the language) adds several dimensions to what readers of the translation are offered, including two maps that make clear the relationship to each other of the various small towns near Bern where much of the story takes place.

   Reading the German side by side with Therese Pol’s English version also reveals where Pol now and then goes her own way. At the end of Chapter 11 (Chapter 8 in the translation), the diabolical Gastmann breaks into Bärlach’s house beside the Aare River and steals the Kommissär’s file on him. “I’m sure you have no copies or photostats. I know you too well, you don’t operate that way.”

   A procedural this novel ain’t. He throws a knife at Bärlach, just missing him, and goes his way. “The old man crept about the room like a wounded animal, floundering across the rug on his hands and knees…, his body covered with a cold sweat.” He moans softly in German: “Was ist der Mensch? Was ist der Mensch?” This simply means “What is man? What is man?” but Therese Pol expands it to: “What sort of animal is man? What sort of animal?”

   That’s not too much of a stretch compared with the last chapter where Bärlach learns that his young assistant Tschanz “sei zwischen Ligerz und Twann unter seinem von Zug erfassten Wagen tot aufgefunden worden,” meaning that between two of the villages shown on the first map he was found dead under his car, which had been struck by a train.

   In English the report is simply “that Tschanz had been found dead under his wrecked car….” The train has vanished, but at least Ms. Pol doesn’t make up Duerrenmatt’s mind for him on whether Tschanz’s death was an accident or suicide. Such are the joys of reading a book in two languages at once. If only my French were good enough to allow me to read Simenon in his own tongue!

***

   You don’t need to be a linguist to catch some amazing blunders in the versions of Simenon that we get to see. In L’Affaire Saint-Fiacre, first published in French in 1931 and first translated by Margaret Ludwig as The Saint-Fiacre Affair HE SAINT-FIACRE AFFAIR in the double volume Maigret Keeps a Rendezvous (1941), a threat on the life of a countess brings Maigret back to the village where he was born and raised.

   Very early in the morning he wakes up in the village inn and, purely for professional reasons, gets ready to attend Mass in the church where he’d been an altar boy. He goes downstairs and, in one of the later translations, the innkeeper asks him: “Are you going to communicate?” Even one who knows no French and nothing of Catholicism should be able to render the question in English better than that.

***

   I don’t remember the title of the novel or who translated it but I vividly recall another Simenon where Maigret wakes up in yet another country inn and phones down for, as he puts it in English, “my little lunch.” Again, you don’t need to know more than a soupçon of French to figure out what the translation of petit déjeuner should be.

***

   As this column is being cobbled together I’m in the middle of going over The John Dickson Carr Companion. And learning some odd trivia about Carr’s novels and stories that had never struck me before. How many of you remember that in the Carter Dickson novel She Died a Lady a gardener claims that on the previous night he went to see the movie Quo Vadis? The book was published in 1943 but, according to the Companion, its events take place in 1940.

   Either way, Carr certainly couldn’t have been referring to the Quo Vadis? that we remember today if we remember the title at all, the 1951 Biblical spectacular that starred Robert Taylor and Deborah Kerr. There was a German silent version of the same story, released in 1924 and starring Emil Jannings, but what would a German silent be doing playing in England long after silents had been displaced by talkies and at a time when England and Germany were at war? More important question: What was Carr thinking?

***

   The adaptations of Carr’s work dating back to the golden age of live TV drama back in the Fifties are not covered in the Companion, at least not in any detail. I happen to have some information on that subject, and chance has now given me an excuse to share it. Anyone remember Danger?

   It was a 30-minute anthology of live teledramas, broadcast on CBS for five seasons (1950-55). My parents hadn’t yet bought their first set when the series began, and when it went off the air I was a child of 12 who hadn’t yet even discovered Sherlock Holmes and Charlie Chan at my local library.

   I don’t think I ever watched the program, certainly not with any regularity, but I vaguely remember that one of its shticks was a background score of solo guitar music played by a guy named Tony Mottola (1918-2004). Obviously the producers of the show were hoping to duplicate the success of the CBS radio and TV classic Suspense, and the two Carr tales that were broadcast on Danger happened to be radio plays that he had written for Suspense back in the Forties. “Charles Markham, Antique Dealer” (January 2, 1951), was based on the radio play “Mr. Markham, Antique Dealer” (Suspense, May 1, 1943) and starred Jerome Thor, Marianne Stewart and Richard Fraser.

   The director was Ted Post (1918-2013), who later moved into filmed TV series like Gunsmoke, Have Gun Will Travel and Rawhide and, thanks to impressing Clint Eastwood with his Rawhide work, got hired to direct big-budget Eastwood features like Hang ’em High (1968) and Magnum Force (1973).

   We don’t know who directed “Will You Walk Into My Parlor?” (February 27, 1951) but it came from Carr’s radio drama of the same name (Suspense, February 23, 1943). The script was first published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, September 1945, and collected in Dr. Fell, Detective and Other Stories (1947) and, after Carr’s death, in The Dead Sleep Lightly (1983).

   The cast was headed by Geraldine Brooks, Joseph Anthony and Laurence Hugo. Among the other top-rank mystery writers whose stories were adapted for Danger were Philip MacDonald, Wilbur Daniel Steele, A.H.Z. Carr, Anthony Boucher, MacKinlay Kantor, Steve Fisher, Q. Patrick, James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler and Roald Dahl.

   The roster of authors who scripted original teleplays for the series included Paddy Chayefsky, Reginald Rose and Rod Serling, and among the directors who rose from this and other live teledramas to Hollywood household-name status were John Frankenheimer and Sidney Lumet.

   The final episode of Danger was a live version of Daphne DuMaurier’s 1952 short story “The Birds,” which Alfred Hitchcock later adapted into one of his best-known films. I can’t imagine anything like Hitchcock’s bird effects being possible on live TV, but either I was watching something else on the night of May 31, 1955 or I went to bed early. If anything from this series is available on DVD, I haven’t heard of it.

***

   Considering the dozens of scripts Carr wrote for Suspense as a radio series, one might have expected a pile of his radio scripts and short stories to have been used when the program became a staple item on prime-time TV.

   In fact only one of his radio dramas and one of his short tales were adapted for the small screen. Among the earliest of the TV show’s episodes was “Cabin B-13″ (March 16, 1949), which starred Charles Korvin and Eleanor Lynn and was based on perhaps the best known and most successful Carr radio drama, first heard on Suspense on May 25, 1943 and collected in The Door to Doom and Other Detections (1980).

   The second and final Carr contribution to Suspense was “The Adventure of the Black Baronet” (May 26, 1953), an adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes story written by Carr in collaboration with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s son Adrian (who according to Douglas G. Greene’s Carr biography did most of the writing) and first published in Collier’s for May 23, 1953, just a few days before the televersion.

   As might have been expected, Basil Rathbone reprised his movie and radio role as Holmes. It might also have been expected that Nigel Bruce would have played Dr. Watson as he had so many times in the movies and on radio. I don’t know why he didn’t, but since he died only a few months later (October 8, 1953), the reason might have had to do with his health. In any event the Watson of this Suspense episode was played by Martyn Green of Gilbert & Sullivan fame.

***

   As far as I’ve been able to find, Carr’s contributions to 30-minute live TV drama are limited to these four episodes. If any of his short stories or radio plays became the bases of filmed 30-minute dramas, I haven’t found them. There are two fairly well-known teledramas at greater than 30-minute length that owe their origins to Carr, but this column is long enough already so I’ll save them for next time.

 Posted by at 2:28 am
Mar 052015
 
FIRST YOU READ, THEN YOU WRITE
by Francis M. Nevins


   Usually I try to have my column finished by the end of each month so it can be posted around the beginning of the next, but having a February column ready by late January proved impossible. Reason One: To my surprise and delight, a book of mine that came out last year, a little trifle called Judges & Justice & Lawyers & Law, was nominated for an Edgar by Mystery Writers of America, which meant that first I had to decide whether at my advanced age I wanted to come to New York late in April for the Edgars dinner, and second that I had to find a decent place to stay that wouldn’t cost me a pair of limbs that I still need.

   Reason Two: I was recently asked to write something for the 75th anniversary issue of EQMM, which comes out next year, and have been spending time trying to cobble something together that would be worthy of the occasion. I’m happy to report that the piece is coming along nicely.

   Reason Three: I’m also trying to put the final touches on another book — one that has nothing to do with our genre and wouldn’t be nominated for an Edgar even if pigs started to fly — and last-minute glitches have been gathering on the horizon like Hitchcock’s birds.

   Reason Four: Keep reading.

   Reason Five: I simply couldn’t think of anything relevant to the genre that I wanted to say, so finally I decided to give up the idea of a February column and shoot for March. Bang.

***

   A number of years ago I devoted part of a column to a Stuart Palmer story, now more than 80 years old, which begins at a St. Patrick’s Day parade on which the APRIL sun is shining down. I couldn’t imagine how that howler got past any editor but at least took comfort from the fact that the story never appeared in EQMM and therefore that the gaffe didn’t get by the eagle eye of Fred Dannay, probably the most meticulous editor the genre has ever seen.

   A week or two ago I stumbled upon another Palmer story for which I can’t say the same. “The Riddle of the Green Ice” first appeared in the Chicago Tribune (April 13, 1941) but was reprinted in Volume 1 Number 2 of EQMM (Winter 1941-42) and included in The Riddles of Hildegarde Withers (Jonathan pb #J26, 1947), a paperback collection Fred edited.

   In the first scene the display window of a jewelry store on Manhattan’s 57th Street is smashed and the thief gets away. Palmer specifically tells us that the robbery took place on a “rainy Saturday afternoon”. A few pages later he gives us a scene that occurs on the following Monday, which he solemnly assures us is “four days after the shattering of the jewelers’ window….”

   Yikes! How in the world could an eagle-eyed editor like Fred Dannay have missed that? Palmer’s story also appears in Fred’s collection The Female of the Species (1943), and sure enough the same gaffe pops up in that printing. Double yikes!!

***

   In another column dating back a few years I wrote that of all the authors Anthony Boucher reviewed in the San Francisco Chronicle back in the 1940s, Ray Bradbury, who had just died, was probably the last person standing. Recently I learned I was wrong. Surviving Bradbury by several years was Helen Eustis, author of the Edgar-winning novel The Horizontal Man (1946), who died on January 11 of this year at age 98.

   Well, technically perhaps I wasn’t wrong. The book was published during Boucher’s tenure at the Chronicle and he mentioned it a few times, for example when MWA awarded it the best-novel Edgar, but he never actually reviewed it for the paper. I wonder who did. Except for her later novel The Fool Killer (1954), Eustis never wrote anything else in our genre. Our loss.

***

   For anyone like me who began seriously reading mysteries in the Eisenhower era, the name of John Dickson Carr was then and still is one to conjure with. He’s been dead since 1977, but no one has yet come close to taking over his position as the premier practitioner of the locked-room and impossible-crime type of detective novel.

   We never met but I remain eternally grateful to him not only for giving me countless hours of reading pleasure, but also for telling his readers that in a small way I reciprocated. In the last full year of his life he reviewed my first novel for his EQMM column (March 1976) and called it the most attractive mystery he’d read in months.

   Since his death he’s been the subject of at least two major books: Douglas G. Greene’s biography The Man Who Explained Miracles (1995) and S.T. Joshi’s John Dickson Carr: A Critical Study (1990). Now those volumes are about to be joined by a third. James E. Keirans’ The John Dickson Carr Companion will run around 400 pages and include an entry for every novel, short story and published radio play in the canon and just about every important character in any of the above, not to mention sections on such subjects as Carr-related alcoholic beverages, automobiles, weapons, London landmarks and Latin quotations.

   How do I know so much about this as yet unpublished book? Because I’ve been asked by the publisher (Ramble House) to run my aging eyes over the book in pdf form and make any corrections I think it needs. That, amigos, is Reason Four behind the absence of a February column. I don’t know precisely when the Companion will be ready for prime time, but my best guess is a few months from now.

***

   I haven’t finished going over the entire book yet but there’s one Carr-related literary incident that I’m willing to bet Keirans doesn’t mention. To know about it you have to have read the published volume of the correspondence between the Russian emigre novelist Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977) and the distinguished literary critic Edmund Wilson (1895-1972). Nabokov — or, as Wilson called him, Volodya — was fond of mystery fiction; Wilson — or, as Nabokov called him, Bunny — hated it.

   In a letter dated December 10, 1943 and addressed to Wilson and his then wife, novelist Mary McCarthy, Nabokov indicates that he’d recently read a whodunit entitled The Judas Window. The title of course is that of the novel published in 1938 under Carr’s pseudonym of Carter Dickson, but Nabokov’s letter seems to indicate that he thought the book had been written by McCarthy.

   “I did not think much of [it], Mary. It is not your best effort…. [T]hat lucky shot through the keyhole is not quite convincing and you ought to have found something better.” How could such a mistake have happened? Wouldn’t the Dickson byline have been on any copy Nabokov might have read? However it happened, you’d expect that either Wilson or McCarthy would quickly have corrected Nabokov’s misapprehension.

   But in fact there’s not another word about the book anywhere in the correspondence, and the editor of the collection of letters, Prof. Simon Karlinsky, was unfamiliar with detective fiction and printed Nabokov’s words without comment. Somehow I wound up with a copy of the first edition of the correspondence (Harper, 1979) and wrote to Prof. Karlinsky with a correction. In the revised and expanded edition (University of California Press, 2001), both Carr and I are acknowledged in footnotes to the Nabokov letter.

 Posted by at 3:39 am
Feb 282015
 
by
Scott D. Parker

I had it all planned out.

Last week, I wrote about the smooth and seamless acquisition of my DBA for “Quadrant Fiction Studio” and the business checking account. By the end of last weekend, I had successfully published on Barnes and Noble after previously publishing on Amazon and Kobo. I had even set up my new monthly newsletter. I was ready for the Big Announcement on Wednesday. I was going to announce via Twitter, Facebook, and everywhere else.

Well, things did not go according to plan.

This past Monday, my boy was admitted to the hospital with abdominal pains. The doctors and nurses quickly zeroed in on a possible cause: appendicitis. After three different folks conducted painful ultrasounds, the general consensus was that of a ruptured appendix. He had a successful appendectomy and is recovering very well.

What was great, especially for my wife and I having to keep the worry at bay, was how efficient everything went. I got the call from my wife at ten, we were in the ER before eleven, and he was in surgery at half past three. There were no other surgeries planned so we had the pre-op room and waiting room to ourselves. A little over an hour later, he was in recovery and soon moved into a cozy private room where he’s been ever since. With good test results, he might be able to go home on Saturday.

Needless to say, the announcement of my first published book was pointless beside my son’s health. He’s already one up on me in life experiences as I’ve never had surgery other than the removal of wisdom teeth.

Sure, I wanted the Big Announcement to be this past Wednesday, but, then again, I wanted to have the book published in January and I missed that mark, too. And the only person, at this stage of my fiction career, who cares about publication dates is me. To the rest of the world, it’s just there.

Perspective. It’s a good thing.

Be that as it may, WADING INTO WAR is now available, live and worldwide, at Amazon, Kobo, and Nook. The new cover link over there on the right takes you to the book webpage at Quadrant Fiction Studio. The author page is also up and running. It'll be the place from which I blog from now on. From there you can sign up for the monthly newsletter.

The best thing about making the announcement today? No longer does it just fall on a random Wednesday in February. It now coincides with my son returning home after a week’s sojourn in the hospital.
Feb 272015
 
An Interview with LAWRENCE KINSLEY


   It took a couple of weeks after I posted a review of The Red-Light Victim (Tower, 1981), a paperback original by Lawrence Kinsley, to track the author down, thanks to Google and the assistance of Mark Nevins, a mutual friend.

   You probably should go read (or re-read) the review again, before continuing. Here’s the link. I’ll reuse the cover image that I used then, but you’ll probably find it helpful to go back to read what I had to say about the book before reading Larry’s own comments on it. What I will tell you here, though, is that it’s a private eye novel, the PI in this case being Boston-based Jason O’Neil. In the background is the anti-nuclear movement of the early 1980s.

   This interview consists of a long comment that Larry left on that earlier blog post, somewhat edited to fit an interview-type format, along with his answers to a few additional questions I asked him.

Steve (SL): I’m glad I was able to get in touch with you, and of course it’s good that you’re still around to be gotten in touch with. Can you tell us something about the book, your reaction to the cover, and how it happened that a second book never happened?

Larry (LK): No, the nukes haven’t gotten me yet! Larry Kinsley is still alive, and am the author of The Red-Light Victim, though I had nothing to do with the cover pic! – that was strictly Tower Pub, which I doubt ever even fully read the book! In fact, I pretty much had an agreement with a scientific group named the Union of Concerned Scientists to review and publicize the book when it came out, but as soon as they saw the cover the agreement vaporized.

   Don’t know how much anyone would be interested in my subsequent tale of woe concerning the book. Suffice it to say that after I sold a second Jason O’Neill detective novel to Tower Pub, The Salem Cult, a year later, they went out of business three months before that book’s fall 1982 release date. Worse, they literally stole away in the middle of the night from their Park Avenue offices, taking all of my royalties from Red-Light with them! These included sales of the book to at least three different European countries, with translations, what Tower had previously told me was unprecedented for one of their mystery/detective books.

   As my writing career up to then had netted me approximately eighht cents an hour, and as at the same time my agent retired suddenly and I couldn’t re-market the second O’Neil book since Tower had already paid for a 15 year copyright, I decided at that time, aided by a sudden move out of the Boston area to Florida because of a work offer in the video retail business, to put my career on hold.

   Red-Light had been up for an Edgar as best first mystery novel, but didn’t win, I was told by Mystery Ink’s librarian, because Tower did nothing to push the book. Although I had other O’Neill books outlined, I simply for a number of reasons both financial and personal couldn’t continue at that time. Little did I know that my hiatus would last well over 30 years!

SL: What have you been doing in the past 30 years?

LK: I have recently retired from the retail business and am back in the writing game, though of course O’Neill himself is vastly out of date – in fact he took up residence in the retirement home for old detectives some time ago – but I do have an historical novel and a WWII spy novel in the pipeline, though no agent as of yet.

   I also spent several years writing a non-fiction book on the architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s campus of buildings at Florida Southern College near where I currently live, which is currently being looked at – no decision yet – by the History Press.

SL: Thanks for all information about The Red-Light Victim and what you’ve been doing since it was published. Do you now own the rights to the book? You mentioned that Tower had a 15 year long contract for the copyright, but that’s long past. And in that regard, have you considered finding a publisher specializing in reprinting oldout-of-print mysteries? There are quite a few actively putting out books today.

LK: You’re very welcome. I’m always interested in letting the reading public know something of the behind the scenes writing game.

   I don’t know much about publishers interested in publishing out of date mysteries – mine was so topical I really didn’t think about a re-release over 30 years later. Maybe by now enough people have come along who thing that the China Syndrome is a casual drug that there might be some re-interest in the topic. (In 1982 I was actually in the middle of negotiating a five-figure deal with a Hollywood producer to sell the screen rights to the book to him when China Syndrome screened, and the deal fell thru.)

   I do own the rights since Tower had only a 15 year window, even if with the failure to pay royalties they had even that, and when the book was published a couple of lines was left out of one chapter which has always nagged me. In fact I have computerized the novel, making a few improvements mainly in the grammar and syntax, so I suppose I could try to market it again.

   I am juggling a couple of other books now, so I will see, but thanks for the suggestion. I also have the second novel in the O’Neill series on the computer now, and may make an attempt with that at some time, though it’s probably even a bit more time sensitive than Red-Light and may not be publishable.

SL: Have you been keeping up with the mystery field in recent years?

LK: Other than rereading Chandler and Hammett, I must confess that I have pretty much put mystery reading as well as writing in the rearview mirror. My current knowledge of the detective/mystery field is severely limited.

SL: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me this way, and for agreeing to have our discussion put online.

LK: I certainly appreciate your interest. Basically I’m just an old gumshoe geezer now whose 15 minutes of near fame has long come and gone, and is probably wasting his time trying finally to get 15 more. But what the heck, I can still breathe, and a writer is usually a writer until his last breath!

 Posted by at 1:26 am
Feb 222015
 

ROBERT ARCHER – The Case of the Vanishing Women. Howell Soskin, hardcover, 1942. Handi-Book #10, paperback, 1943 (probably abridged).

   According to Al Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV, Robert Archer was the author of one other mystery under this pen name, Death on the Waterfront (Doubleday, 1941) and a third as by Robert Platt: The Swaying Corpse (Phoenix, 1941). Archer’s real name was Robert Vern DeWard, about whom Google reveals only that he was “born in Iowa on 8 Aug 1894 to Robert Archer and Addie Platt. Robert Vern married Ruby Fay Harris and had a child. He passed away on 4 Apr 1984 in Los Angeles, California.”

   This case of the “vanishing women” is tackled head-on by a pair of sleuths who as far know never were involved in another. The story is told by a newspaperman named Marty Prentiss, just back in town (New York City) and trying to make a name for himself again by tagging along with a cop named Tiny Tim Lannahan when an unidentified body on a pier jutting into the North River along Manhattan’s west side.

   But Prentiss’s actual companion in solving the crime is a PI named John Stacy, whose path crosses that of Prentiss as he’s working on a kidnapping case that has led him into the same area along the docks. Missing is the adopted daughter of a well-known inventor who has plans for a weapons system for submarines that enemy agents would just love to get their hands on.

   Could the dead man be the inventor? The girl, once rescued, says yes. The man’s wife, once found, says no. And both the girl and the man’s wife seem to go missing every so often again, hence the title, but as titles go, it’s still a rather uninspired one.

   And so seems the case. A lot seems to happen to take up a big chunk of most of middle part of the book, but if you were ever to stop reading to think about it, you’d realize that nothing really has been happening.

   Nor does the writing ever seem inspired. It’s competent enough, in a semi-breezy style that’s better then 80% of the pulp detective fiction that was being written at the time, but it’s nowhere nearly as well done as the work usually turned in by the guys who wrote for Black Mask, for example.

   Until the ending, that is, when Prentiss finally shows he hasn’t been sleeping all the way the case. (A bad metaphor. He actually doesn’t get a lot of sleep in this book.) I’m still not sure if the pieces all fit together, but Archer definitely had had something up his sleeve all along, and it shows. Not a classic, by any means, but as a detective novel, it’s a memorable one.

 Posted by at 1:57 am
Feb 172015
 

SUSAN RICHARD – Chateau Saxony. Paperback Library; paperback original, 1971.

   You pick a book at random, around here at least, and you never know exactly what you may find. This looks like a perfectly ordinary gothic romance novel from the 70s, and that’s precisely what it is. Checking with Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV, you then discover that “Susan Richard” is a pseudonym, of Julie Ellis, who also wrote mysteries and crime fiction (mostly other gothics) as Susan Marino and Susan Marvin.

   Most of her books seem to have been written as by Julie Ellis, and over the years – from the titles, at least – it appears that she is now writing what is called “romantic suspense” – gothics as such having lost some of their appeal. (There simply can’t be that many spooky castles and mansions still remaining anywhere in the world.)

   While the first book that Hubin lists for her as being crime fiction, The Secret of the Villa Como, as by Susan Marvin, came out from Lancer in 1966, Julie Ellis seems to have had another early career writing as Joan Ellis for the relatively sexy line of Midwood paperbacks from the even earlier 1960s – for example, The Hot Canary (Midwood, 1963), The Strange Compulsion of Laura M. (Midwood, 1962), Liza’s Apartment (Midwood, 1961) and Gang Girl (Midwood, 1964).

   INSERT: There is a short interview with Julie Ellis you can find online that was conducted by Lynn Munroe before her death in 2006. She was not bothered by the attention paid to her early “sexy” novels, but rather she seemed to enjoy the attention and was a guest at several of Gary Lovisi’s annual paperback shows in Manhattan. I never met her, but after writing this review, I was in touch with her several times by email.

   So. Chateau Saxony is where young, unattached Laurie Stanton finds herself going after graduating from college – Switzerland, that is, near Geneva, where she by happenstance has been hired to teach French to a young wealthy businessman’s stubborn grandmother, who’d rather be back home in New England.

   The house itself is not spooky, but the servants do not seem to like her, and soon after Laurie’s arrival, strange events begin to happen: a rock and a trivet are thrown through her window; she finds a voodoo doll on her bed; a fire breaks out in her room. The grandmother, Diedre, on several occasions, claims to have ESP and warns Laurie that if she stays, something horrible will happen at the chateau that summer.

   The challenge to the author is, if you’re going by the rules, is to have all of these events happen, and yet make them seem reasonable, with everyday kinds of explanations, so that in effect, nothing seems to happen while there really is. And – if you were wondering – why does Laurie stay? There is the young wealthy millionaire (I guess that was redundant) whom she finds herself falling in love with. And, it as gradually becomes clear, although under the most chaste of circumstances, he with her.

   The last incident that Laurie must face could have been enhanced into a fairly decent locked-room mystery – a pendant is stolen from her room while she is sleeping and locked in – but after nearly 150 pages of gradually growing suspense and atmosphere (mostly the latter), the whole affair seems to come unraveled and is solved all too quickly. I imagine I should have spotted the person responsible, but I confess that I did not. I am embarrassed, but I will never lie to you.

— June 2004

 Posted by at 2:46 am
Feb 132015
 
A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Robert E. Briney


HELEN McCLOY – Cue for Murder. William Morrow, hardcover, 1942. Reprint editions include: Dell #212 , paperback, [1948], mapback edition; Bantam, paperback, 1965.

   In his introduction to a reprint edition of Cue for Murder, Anthony Boucher recalled the reception of Helen McCloy’s first novel, Dance of Death (1938): “Few first mysteries have received such generous critical praise, as the reviewers stumbled over each other to proclaim [the author] a genuine find … combining a civilized comedy of manners with the strictest of logical deduction.”

   In addition to an urbane and literate style, McCloy’s work is characterized by psychological insight, meticulous plotting, and the sheer ingenuity with which she handles seemingly impossible situations.

   McCloy was one of the founding members of the Mystery Writers of America, and was that organization’s first woman president in 1950. She was married for fifteen years to mystery writer Davis Dresser, who, as Brett Halliday, created the popular private detective Michael Shayne. In addition to writing fiction, McCloy has been a publisher, editor, and literary agent. In 1953 she received an MWA Edgar for Mystery Criticism.

   McCloy’s series detective, Dr. Basil Willing, was introduced in her first book; Cue for Murder is his fifth appearance. Willing is a psychiatrist, once a consultant to the Manhattan district attorney’s office and now, in the early months of World War II, working with the New York office of the FBI.

   He is in the audience at the Royalty Theater on opening night of a modern-dress revival of Sardou`s Victorian melodrama Fedora. At the end of the first act, it is discovered that a murder has been committed on stage during the performance, but no one can identify the victim.

   Willing is drawn into the investigation both throughm his police connections and through a family friendship with the production’s costume designer. The clues include a knife sharpener’s canary released from its cage, the odd behavior of a housefly, a mysterious figure on a fire escape, and a script containing an underlined cue for murder.

   Cue for Murder is almost a textbook example of the classic fair-play detective novel, an intricate framework in which the clues fit together like the interlocking pieces of an elaborate jigsaw puzzle. The framework is fleshed out with diverting characters, acute psychological observation, a satiric and knowledgeable rendering of the theatrical background, and a vivid portrait of wartime Manhattan, complete with blackouts and air-raid wardens.

   The book’s strength as a novel is measured by the fact that it can be read with pleasure even after its secrets are known.

         ———
   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

 Posted by at 4:30 am
Feb 092015
 
THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


SPENCER DEAN -Price Tag for Murder. Doubleday, hardcover, 1959. Pocket #6048, paperback, 1961.

   This is one more in the series of interminable — if this novel is any guide — adventures of Don Cadee, Chief of Store Protection at Ambletts Fifth Avenue. As information comes to Cadee’s attention that an entire warehouse of merchandise, a warehouse that should have had no existence, has disappeared, he is simultaneously faced with the suicide or murder of a key employee in the store’s purchasing department.

   Some minor problems for Cadee are the installation of a closed-circuit television to scan areas in the store and the perhaps imminent departure of a company executive to Mexico, possibly accompanied by some of the store’s funds and one of the store’s best buyers.

   For those who like action, or what seems like it, and dialogue, with very little description or writing style and not a whole lot of plot.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 9, No. 6, November-December 1987.


Bio-Bibliographic Notes:   Spencer Dean was the pen name of (Nathaniel) Prenctice (Jr.) (1895-1976). Other pan names he used were Jay De Bekker, Spencer Dean, Dexter St. Clair, Dexter St. Clare & Stewart Sterling. The latter is perhaps the most well-known. According to Al Hubin Crime Fiction IV, he was “born in Evanston, Illinois; died in Tallahassee, Florida; worked for an advertising agency, then newspaper man; editor of trade publications, journalism lecturer; wrote and produced over 500 radio mystery shows, wrote for films and TV; published some 400 magazine detective stories.”

   A long article by Richard Moore about Stewart Sterling and his various “specialty detectives” can be found here on the primary Mystery*File website.

      The Don Cadee mystery series –

The Frightened Fingers, Washburn, 1954.
The Scent of Fear. Washburn, 1954.
Marked Down for Murder. Doubleday, 1956.
Murder on Delivery. Doubleday, 1957.
Dishonor Among Thieves. Doubleday, 1958.
The Merchant of Murder. Doubleday, 1959.
Price Tag for Murder. Doubleday, 1959.
Murder After a Fashion. Doubleday, 1960.
Credit for a Murder. Doubleday, 1961.

 Posted by at 10:58 pm